A series of earthquakes have rocked the Caribbean today and scientists are concerned that another volcanic eruption is possible in the Lesser Antilles on the island of Martinique.
17 earthquakes struck the Caribbean today, with most around western and southern Puerto Rico. The strongest earthquake in the area struck this morning about 75 miles north of The Valley on Anguilla; it was measured at 4.1. A 4.0 struck in the same general area just hours before. On the north coast of Venezuela, a 5.0 earthquake also struck early today. None of these earthquakes were strong enough to generate a tsunami in the Caribbean, and no tsunami threat exists in the Bahamas or the U.S. east coast at this time.
However, scientists are concerned that a swarm of earthquakes occurring on the island of Martinique may be a sign that Mount Pelee could be getting ready for an eruption soon. Seismic and volcanic activity on the French island in the Caribbean is monitored by Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and the Observatoire volcanologique et sismologique de Martinique. According to that observatory, between June 4 and June 11 at least 16 volcano-tectonic earthquakes were recorded; they were located inside the volcanic edifice between sea level and above sea level. While these earthquakes were not felt by the population on the island, they are the kind associated with the formation of micro-fractures in the volcanic edifice. The observatory stated, “During phases of volcanic reactivation, periods of higher seismic activity often alternate with phases of lower seismicity. Seismicity remains above the baseline level.”
Scientists there also report that vegetation appears to be brown and dead along the southwest flank of Mount Pelee, which could be an indication of the presence of volcanic heat and/or lethal gases coming up from inside the Earth around the volcano.
Mount Pelee is an active volcano at the northern end of Martinique which is located in the Lesser Antilles volcanic arc of the Caribbean. Mount Pelee means “bald mountain” or “peeled mountain”; it last erupted in 1932. When the stratovolcano erupted in 1902, it destroyed the nearby town of Saint-Pierre, killing roughly 30,000 people there within minutes. That eruption became known as the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century.
Due to ongoing unrest at the volcano, the Martinique Volcano Observatory (NVO) has raised their volcano alert level from green / normal to yellow / restless.
If Mount Pelee were to erupt, it would be the second volcano to do so this year in the Caribbean. In April, an explosive eruption occurred on St. Vincent at the La Soufriere Volcano there. St. Vincent is located south of Martinique. While covering islands with thick ash, the St. Vincent eruption also released a plume of toxic gas that circled the globe.
It is too soon to know whether or not a new eruption at Mount Pelee would have impacts to the environment, weather, and climate beyond the Caribbean.
If Mount Pelee erupts, it would join more than 2 dozen other volcanoes currently erupting around the globe. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide, with about 500 of the 1,500 erupting in historical times.
Most of the volcanoes in the world are located around the “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Rim. The Ring of Fire is a region around the rim of the Pacific Ocean where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. Caused by plate tectonics, lithospheric plates under and around the Pacific Ocean move, collide, and/or are destroyed, creating the seismic activity the Ring of Fire is famous for.
While many volcanoes erupt around the Ring of Fire, volcanoes can also erupt in the Caribbean. 17 of the region’s 19 active volcanoes are located on 11 islands, with another 2 currently under water near the island of Grenada. The eastern Caribbean’s most active volcano prior to April’s explosive eruption was Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. Soufriere Hills destroyed the capital of Plymouth and killed 19 people when it erupted in 1997. That volcano has been continuously erupting since 1995.